If you are anything like me, you can spend a lot of emotional capital thinking about the big picture. With Facebook and Instagram and the instant audiences they provide, we can express our thoughts and positions on issues of vast international relevance. These are certainly important, and if the past few months have taught us anything there are challenges out there that affect our entire global community! However, I wonder if we could express ourselves more effectively with small, local actions.
Jumping into online arguments about politics or the news is not my style. Naturally, I have a few thoughts that I fight the urge to share from time to time, but I think that is human nature. That said, every time I do put on my keyboard warrior helmet and jump in, it almost always makes me miserable and leads to conflict. I have yet to see anyone change their mind over the course of a Facebook political debate! However, I have seen mountains move as a result of one small act of local compassion.
One of my favorite legends tells the story of a Buddhist teacher and his student, discussing some of the big ideas of their practice while sitting down to cake and tea. The student asks the master questions with huge implications, seeking answers to the meaning of life. When the student asks “what is the teaching that goes beyond everything our leaders have ever said?” the teacher replied “cake.” This was a shock tactic meant to make a point. I believe what the teacher wants the student to know is that he should be focused on the ordinary world in front of him, and that compassion for that ordinary world will be a more direct route to the enlightenment he seeks. In short, be present for the ordinary world at your feet, and you will truly make a contribution.
There is room for both avenues of communication, of course. Expressing ourselves is our right and our responsibility, no matter how we do so. I just believe that we can do so with more kindness and compassion. It is easy to forget that the person on the other end of an anonymous website is a person as well, with their own beliefs and emotions. When we are standing face-to-face with our neighbors, we have more access to empathy. I believe we are more inclined to listen, smile, and understand when we are thinking small.
There are a thousand ways to take small actions and demonstrate compassion for the ordinary world around us. Pick up that stray branch blocking the walking trail ahead of you. Collect the pop can you discover in the pond at the park. Protect a Robin’s nest on your grandmother’s basketball hoop to save a few baby birds and make lasting memories (that one comes from my personal experience, many years ago).
I am going to do my best to spend less energy expressing anger or despair about the challenges we face across our planet, to redirect that energy toward making tiny, positive contributions to the ordinary world around me. The health of our natural world depends on our restraint and on our being proactive to protect it from those that do not show restraint. Share nature with your family. Take a picture of a Monarch Butterfly and share it online. Plant a tree with the SBLC. Focus on making the world a better place, starting with the place that surrounds you. It isn’t always easy, but it will pay you back ten times over!
With hope for our community and an open heart,